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Prepping for Fall & Beating the Heat

Many years, fall is my favorite time in the garden here in Kansas. The tricky thing is getting yourself into a “fall” mindset when it is still blazingly hot in early August. Yes, now is the time to plan, prepare, and plant your fall vegetable garden!

28637375082_2a128d6b64We started seeds for some of our fall plantings about 4-5 weeks ago: broccoli, cauliflower, Japanese winter bunching onion, kale, and bok choy.

I moved them outside onto the table near the building last week, so they don’t look quite this nice anymore. The flea beetles are going to do a number on our fall brassicas, I’m afraid.

Despite the heat, I wanted to get at least some of these plants in the ground, because they are drying out too fast in the cell trays.

Timing isn’t too critical on some of these, but the broccoli and cauliflower may not have a long enough growing season if we don’t plant them soon.

We also have a number or root vegetables that need to be planted soon if we want to get a good crop.

Things like lettuce and spinach need to wait a few more weeks, because the soil is just too warm to plant now. They also grow faster, so we can afford to wait a bit longer to plant.

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In preparation for planting some of our root vegetables next week, we put a thick layer of straw mulch down in some of the planting areas. Organic mulches like straw can cool the soil up to 10 degrees in addition to helping with soil moisture. Hopefully we’ll get better germination because of the straw.

For more ideas and techniques about fall vegetable gardens, here are several posts about fall gardening from a few years ago:

Fall Gardening: Why Try It and What to Plant

Fall Gardening: Less Common Vegetables for Kansas

Fall Gardening: When to Plant

Fall Gardening: Dealing with Late Summer Heat

Fall Gardening: Dealing with Late Fall Cold

Fall Gardening: Kansas Climate Conditions for Extending into the Winter

Fall Gardening: Using Row Covers

Fall Gardening: Overwintering Vegetables for Spring

Friday PhotoEssay

Today has been so crazy that I almost forgot it was Friday! Last week I had a good excuse – Tomato Day – for not getting a PhotoEssay post done. I don’t know what my excuse is for today, other than I have somehow been busy all day. I did finish the first draft of a publication on Fall Gardening that I think I will probably break down into pieces for this fall.

Although it has still be nasty hot this week, a few days of more overcast skies have made it not seem quite so bad. I’m also looking forward to the Sunday forecast…91 for a high and 65 for a low!?!? I don’t know if I can handle the cold! Okay, I’ll stop looking at the long range forecast now, because I’ll just be disappointed when it gets to be August 15th and it isn’t 83 degrees and rainy.

Between the late planting, the herbicide damage, and the heat, we haven’t gotten a single ripe tomato out of the garden this year (except for the hanging basket cherry tomatoes). It is kind of a bummer to not have tomatoes for the second year in a row, even though it was an unfortunate set of circumstances that brought it on this year. The picture is from one of the ‘Solar Fire’ plants, which does have a few green tomatoes set. I’m guessing they were set during that partial week of mid-90s back in the first half of July. ‘Solar Fire’ is a heat set variety, so it would be more likely to set in those conditions. It is one of the only plants with much to show for tomatoes so far.

The tomatillos, on the other hand, are doing quite well. This is an heirloom ‘Purple’ tomatillo, which produces these bright purple 1 1/2 inch fruit. They are pretty small for tomatillos, but I’m super impressed by the color! Often purple vegetables are not as brilliantly colored in “real life” as in the catalogs.

This is the first of the Litchi Tomatoes I’ve seen starting to ripen. It isn’t quite there yet…it should be a deeper red color. Aren’t those spines impressive, though?

We may have planted the ‘Cardinal’ Basil in the Edible Flowers garden, but I keep wishing we had a cutting flower garden this year, because they would be gorgeous in a bouquet!

We found this butterfly out hanging around one of the melons earlier this week. It was acting a little lethargic, so hopefully it had either laid some eggs to finish its lifecycle or it was able to become more energetic later on. I think it’s a Black Swallowtail…anyone have a definite opinion?

This is the first flower I’ve seen on our ‘Thai Red Roselle’ (edible hibiscus). The plants are not as red as I was expecting them to be (see my comments on the purple tomatillos), and the buds are also really tiny. I think it is technically the calyxes (the part behind the petals) that are left behind after the flower has bloomed  that we want to use for teas and cooking. We’ll be keeping an eye on it in the next couple weeks.

Have a great (cooler?!?) weekend!

Heat Set Tomatoes

I think I’ve mentioned a couple times that we were watching our heat-set tomatoes for signs of fruit set during the heat. A few weeks later, we are not at a point where we can really get a good idea of what is going on with the different varieties. The results so far are pretty interesting! The things I’m looking for are the number of tomatoes, the size of the tomatoes, and any apparent deformities.

We didn’t choose the Marmande tomatoes for any reputed heat set characteristics, but it looks like they must tolerate the heat a little bit, since these tomatoes are good sized and most likely set during the hot weather. They don’t look stupendous, but they’re okay.

This is ‘Sunmaster’. It has a few tomatoes on it, and they are large enough to indicate fruit set during the heat. While not numerous, the tomatoes look pretty good.

Right now, ‘Solar Fire’ looks like the loser for the year. There are only a couple tomatoes on it, and they are still very small. This most likely indicates that they didn’t set until after the worst of the heat broke a couple weeks ago. It’s still better than nothing, though.

If ‘Solar Fire’ is losing, I think the ‘BHN-189’ is winning. This plant definitely has the most tomatoes and the largest tomatoes on it. They definitely set during the worst of the heat! I’m a little concerned about the scarring on the fruit, but I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt for the time being.

‘Super Sioux’ isn’t looking particularly super. The two tomatoes that are set don’t look too bad, but there are only two tomatoes, that I saw. The only thing that puts it above ‘Solar Fire’ is that the tomatoes look nicer and they are larger, indicating earlier set.

The ‘Florida 91’ plant is in the middle of the field right now. There are a decent number of tomatoes, but not as many as ‘BHN-189’, and some of the fruit are scarred or misshapen. The plant doesn’t look as nice either.

‘Sun Leaper’ is also middle to bottom of the pack. Like ‘Sunmaster’ the tomatoes look pretty nice, but like ‘Super Sioux’, there are few to be found.

The moral of this story is that even “Heat Set” tomatoes don’t love continuous heat above 100 degrees (and really, who/what does?), but they still limp along and set a little bit.

Of course, as these tomatoes ripen, the other question to address is this: Is having a tomato that doesn’t taste very good better than having no tomatoes at all? I’m skeptical of the flavor potential for several of these varieties, but everyone has a different tolerance level for tomato flavor. Stay tuned for more on these tomatoes in the next few weeks!